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What Do IAM Systems Do for K-12?

Identity and access management of users in K-12 districts, including students, teachers and administrative staff, can have many benefits in terms of cybersecurity and time saved creating and deleting profiles.

Concept image of a hacker stealing a person's identity.
Every teacher and student needs an account to access a district network, but the manual creation of hundreds or even thousands of user profiles for a school district can lead to human error or leave the door open for security breaches. Experts in the field say identity and access management (IAM) is the answer to this.

The IAM process essentially manages user access to digital systems, applications and data, taking manual implementation out of the equation. Through an authentication process, IAM systems can grant users — students, teachers and administrative staffers — access to specific resources; control who has access to those tools, when they have access and from where; and monitor a user’s activity. Its automated process not only grants access based on the user’s role but can suspend or prevent access when someone leaves a district or changes roles.

According to Jaime Donally, engagement director at IAM software company Identity Automation, effective automation and authentication can help K-12 educators focus on the learning.

“Unfortunately, schools are often overwhelmed by too many resources,” Donally told Government Technology in an email. “IAM can help schools provide a secure and streamlined way to deliver resources to classrooms when they need them.”

Identity Automation is just one company that provides services to streamline these systems, with ClassLink and Tools4ever among their competitors. Retired educator Diana McGhee, former technology director at Fort Thomas Independent Schools in Kentucky and former president of the Kentucky Society for Technology in Education, said IAM tools are ideal for the needs of modern school districts. She said Fort Thomas used ClassLink when she was there, and it sped up and simplified network access.

“In many districts, it is manual,” McGhee told Government Technology. She said with manual implementation, a student would hypothetically enroll on a Monday and might not have their credentials to access the network until Thursday. But moving this task away from the individual and to a tool, freeing them to focus on what’s most important, is worth the price of admission, she said.

“That process itself is a hindrance to what teachers and the student need to be able to do in class. And so identity management and the automating just makes everything run more smoothly,” she said. “The advantage would be in education. You always have to come back to what is the most important thing, and the most important thing is the students. ... And if it impacts them in a positive way, it's worth every penny.”

More than just access into school systems, automation helps secure them, so a person manually entering information doesn’t skip any layers of access or, in the event of someone leaving the district, forget to remove a user. It’s a cybersecurity issue with which K-12 districts have historically struggled.

“When all of that is automated, it's just a more secure environment, as well as a more productive one,” McGhee said.

Donally cited a number of case studies where school districts in Minnesota, California, New Jersey and North Carolina partnered with Identity Automation to use its RapidIdentity tool, experiencing various metrics of success: an 80 percent reduction in support calls, or the processing of millions of authentications that wouldn't have been possible manually, or a significant reduction in IT workload.

Passwords just won’t cut it, Donally said, noting that IAM's layers of authentication make it a more secure system. She said the need for identity access management and automation will only continue to grow with the rise in tech options available for schools.

“The need for IAM is well past optional and is now a critical component to creating a safe and seamless digital ecosystem,” Donally said. “Using IAM, districts can connect their digital ecosystem in one secure location, rather than making changes in different systems, devices and applications. IAM plays an important role … by providing authentication to securely access information and resources across different systems.”
Giovanni Albanese Jr. is a staff writer for the Center for Digital Education. He has covered business, politics, breaking news and professional soccer over his more than 15-year reporting career. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Salem State University in Massachusetts.